State Steps Up Medfly Defense

Florida has added more troops to its defense against the Mediterranean fruit fly in the form of sterile fly releases over an expanded area of South Florida, Commissioner of Agriculture Charles H. Bronson announced last week.

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The additional release area in Broward County is a pro-active measure to expand the coverage of the program with no additional cost. This is possible due to the efficiency of the Sterile Insect Release technology and effective operation of the Sterile Insect Release Facility in Sarasota. 

The expanded release is part of the Sterile Insect Technique and Mediterranean Fruit Fly (Med Fly) Preventive Release Program based in Sarasota, Florida, and  is a cooperative effort between the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine (USDA, APHIS, PPQ) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry (FDACS, DPI). 

“Since the sterile fly release initiative’s inception in 1999, no major fruit fly outbreak has occurred,” said Commissioner Bronson. “Prior to that time, over $50 million had been spent to eradicate just two outbreaks in the late 1990s,” Bronson added. 

Sterile Insect Technique is a biologically-based reproduction control method that involves mass rearing and sterilization of the specific pest targeted for eradication and a sustained field release of sterile males in numbers great enough to outnumber the potential for mating by wild males. Wild female insects mated with sterile males do not reproduce offspring.

The advantages of Sterile Insect Technique over conventional insect control methods are numerous. It is safe for the public, has no adverse impact on the environment, and is specific only to the species targeted.

The sterile flies are reared and sterilized in Guatemala and then the fly pupa are sent by airfreight to Sarasota, Florida, where they are reared to adults and aerially released throughout designated areas of the state. The state’s fruit fly monitoring and detection program checks over 55,000 traps to ensure no wild (non-sterile) Medflies have been introduced through Florida’s ports of entry by travelers or commercial carriers on fruits or vegetables and to monitor sterile fly population levels to assure optimum sterile fly coverage in release areas.

Currently, sterile male Medflies are released aerially five times a week over 300 square miles in Hillsborough County, three times a week over 160 square miles of Sarasota County, and three times a week over 140 square miles of Dade County.  All of these areas are considered high-risk for an introduction of exotic fruit flies, especially Medflies.  Due to a busy international airport and deep-water seaport, Broward County is also considered a high-risk area for introduction of exotic fruit flies.  

On October 13, 2009, the Sterile Insect Technique and Mediterranean Fruit Fly Preventive Release Program will begin releasing sterile Mediterranean fruit flies three times a week over 16 square miles in  Broward County and is referred to as Phase I. Phase I releases will be made in an area that lies between the Miami-Dade/Broward County Line and the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. Phase I will run from October 2009 to January 2010, at which time further expansion to the north will be discussed by USDA, APHIS, PPQ and FDACS, DPI.  

For more information, contact USDA, APHIS, PPQ Public Affairs Specialist Nolan Lemon at 919-855-7008 or FDACS, DPI Public Information Specialist Mark Fagan at 954-410-4119 or visit www.fl-dpi.com.

Source: FDACS Release